Thursday, October 15, 2020

Language Of Confusion: Delete, Part II

More words about getting rid of something! I wonder if they’ll be as crazy as last week.
Cancel showed up in the late fourteenth century, literally meaning to cross out something written with lines, generally to deface something. In other words, it meant strikethrough text. It comes from the Anglo French/Old French canceler, from the classical Latin cancellare, which literally meant to make like a lattice. Apparently it was Late Latin who started using it to mean cross out (with lines) something written. It’s related to the words cancelli, which means lines or lattice, which is from cancer, which means crossed bars or lattice and is not related to cancer at all, just get that out of your head. It’s actually rated to carcer, prison, the origin word of incarceration. So the answer is yes, these words are as crazy as last week’s.
Next, expunge showed up in the seventeenth century from the classical Latin expungere, which means to repulse or blot out a name on a list—so again, words being crossed out. It has a kind of weird reasoning to it that sounds way dirtier than it actually is, so bear with me for a minute. Expungere literally means “to prick out”. Yeah. Ex- means out, while pungere means to prick, from the Proto Indo European peuk-, to prick. Since crossing out a name on a list involved blotting (or, sigh, pricking) out the name with a pen nib, we have expunge. Which you will never be able to look at again without thinking of the word prick. You’re welcome.
Purge showed up in the fourteenth century meaning to clear of a charge or suspicion, and then later on to cleanse or purify. It’s from the Anglo French purger, Old French purgier, and classical Latin purgare, to cleanse or clear. It’s actually from the Latin word purus, pure, yes, the origin of pure, as well as the word agree, to set in motion, do, or perform, a word that can be traced to the Proto Indo European ag-. To purge something is to get rid of it, in an act of cleansing.
Finally, abolish showed up in the mid fifteenth century from the Old French noun aboliss, from the verb abolir, to abolish. It’s from the classical Latin abolere, to abolish, so we’re not seeing any major changes here. It’s a mix of ab, away from, and part of adolere, to magnify or grow. Abolish was made to be the opposite of adolere, so instead of growing something, it was getting rid of it.
Online Etymology Dictionary
Google Translate
University of Texas at Austin Linguistic Research Center
University of Texas at San Antonio’s page on Proto Indo European language
Fordham University
Orbis Latinus


  1. You just know I'm going to have to use the word pricking somewhere today...

  2. The word expunge has always sounded kind of dirty to me. Now you've made it feel even dirtier...

  3. Actually, I'm stuck on how we don't use "punge." I want that to be a word!

  4. It's funny how they start out as crossing out a word, but nowadays our connotation is a bit more physical.

  5. I liked the one on cancel ... That's quite an evolution!


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